Meningitis (infection of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord) is a serious illness. Meningitis can occur in adults and children, even in infants, and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Bacterial meningitis can be fatal or cause severe impairment, particularly if the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis is delayed, but can be treated, especially when diagnosed early in the disease. The common types of bacteria that can cause meningitis are Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). These bacteria are highly contagious, spread rapidly, and can be deadly. Nursing homes, college dormitories, day care centers, and schools are often sites of outbreaks of meningitis. Vaccines are available for some bacteria and can be helpful to stop spread of contagious meningitis. The January 3, 2007, issue of JAMA includes an article about meningitis in children.